Innovation Perspectives – Connecting Social Networks to Innovation

30 Ideas for Using Social Networks to Help You Be More Innovative

This is the first of several ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles we will publish this week from multiple authors to get different perspectives on ‘What is the role of social media in innovation? (Either inside or outside the organization)’. Here is the initial perspective in the series:

by Mike Brown

Innovation Perspectives - Connecting Social Networks to InnovationWhat is the role of social media and networks in innovation?

Given the collaborative and interactive nature of social networks, they are a natural venue for enhancing innovation across many dimensions. Here are 30 possibilities you could pursue to make social networking a more overt part of your innovation efforts:

Identifying Unarticulated Needs

  • Set up a social media monitoring system to see where and how customers are talking about your brand and related issues.
  • Sponsor a contest to have customers identify challenges they’re facing (that you might be able to solve).
  • Listen for social media participants expressing challenges you could help solve.
  • Sponsor your own Twitter-based chat for customers in your industry to talk about topics of interest.
  • Recruit customers to video ideas, issues, and problems they face and post them. Reward ideas that get used.

Tapping New Expertise

  • Identify outside experts / partners to potentially incorporate into your innovation efforts.
  • Spot young talent with new perspectives to bring into your organization through internships or permanent jobs.
  • Participate in #innochat on Twitter every Thursday at 12 noon ET (US).
  • Sponsor and promote an open competition to solve a challenge your business is facing related to innovation.
  • Suggest a monthly topic for Blogging Innovation related to an area where you’re looking to be more innovative.
  • Develop a follower base focused on innovation areas for your business.
  • Follow the experts followed by the people you look to for innovative perspectives online.

Gathering Different Inputs and Information

  • Lurk in competitors’ communities to see what new things they’re talking about.
  • Use a blog to write about issues you’re addressing and solicit readers to offer their perspectives.
  • Regularly feed front end innovation questions to your community for input.
  • Give Flip cameras to employees throughout your company. Have them post video ideas on your private social network.
  • Participate in social networks targeted at analogous businesses/industries to see how they think about similar issues to ones you face.

Enabling Innovative Collaboration

  • Invite your customers to a community to share ideas with one another.
  • Listen to social media conversations as a source of random inputs for ideation.
  • Use online chat environments to push and expand ideas you are pursuing.
  • Set up a private social network to provide a forum for more detailed innovation-based conversations.
  • Create more active connections and dialogue across boundaries in your own organization.
  • Summarize and post direct dialogues between innovators in your company to allow a broader group to comment, respond, and adapt an idea.
  • Share fragments of new ideas which colleagues (both near and far flung) can build on and transform through their input.
  • After innovative collaborative relationships are developed online, make a concerted effort to meet in real life to move the collaboration to new levels.

Solving Challenging Problems

  • Feature your internal experts more broadly toward making them available to help solve challenges in your industry.
  • Provide multiple social media channels for customers to complain directly to you with product issues.
  • Offer to help competitor’s customers solve problems they’re having with your competitors’ products / services.
  • Connect your outside partners more effectively in a social community to allow them to better discuss ways your organization can be more innovative.
  • Use images from Flickr or videos on YouTube to help communicate early stage innovation concepts.

I’m not sure these 30 ideas have even lightly scratched the surface, so let’s hear what you’ve done that you’d add to the list!

April Sponsor - Brightidea
You can check out all of the ‘Innovation Perspectives‘ articles from the different contributing authors on ‘How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?’ by clicking the link in this sentence.

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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company’s chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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9 Responses to Innovation Perspectives – Connecting Social Networks to Innovation

  1. janelle says:

    Some great ideas here! Your point about the use of social networks inside companies and the option to 'Set up a private social network to provide a forum for more detailed innovation-based conversations' is exactly what is focused in this post on 'Ten Reasons Your Corporate Social Network Should be an Innovation Social Network'

  2. Jen says:

    Great summary of how to gain feedback for idea generation quickly. There are 2 lingering questions in my mind: 1) how to organize the massive amount of information into something that is structured and makes sense, and 2) how do you select unbiased information about brands. In my experience, most of the information is skewed toward what people recall and/or feel is worth sharing. Collecting innovation insights is a first step in the right direction to gain more knowledge about brand experieneces.

  3. jz says:

    Great post! There are some really good ideas/suggestions here. The company I work with, Bulbstorm ( can add a couple to your list. We work with social media every day, and do many of the things you suggested in your post, such as sponsoring contests and developing a follower base focused on innovation areas in our business. Currently, we run challenges via our Idea Challenges application ( The premise of every challenge is for fans to submit an idea or innovation (based on the theme of the challenge) and earn points by voting and commenting on fellow fan’s ideas. We have given away some pretty cool prizes too…currently we’re running a “Go Green” challenge where fans can submit their innovative idea for living a green lifestyle. Grand prize is a $1,000 “green” shopping spree.

    The challenges we sponsor help to increase fan interaction, and drives engagement more than paid advertising is able to do. They also help to spread the word about great innovations and ideas, some that we hope to one day bring to market.

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